Advice to My Younger Self

A friend from lab had a bunch of free tickets for Navy Pier in downtown Chicago and he invited a few of us to mini-golf this weekend. Jay and I had so much apartment stuff to do, mainly setting up the new bedroom set, that I really wanted to say no. Even after I said I would go, I emailed everyone a few hours later to flake. Luckily, my friend text-shamed me into going again.

And, as these things usually turn out, I was really glad I went. It was my first time going into downtown since I moved here and the pier was fun, in a silly carnival attractions kind of way. It was the last day of the summer season so there were tons of people and lots of free food. I played mini-golf for the first time in years and we had enough tickets leftover for everyone to ride the Ferris Wheel. The view of the Chicago skyline from the Ferris Wheel was well worth the 45 minute drive into the city. DSC_0965 (2)

This little trip reminded me of one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the last few years – say “yes!” often. And that got me thinking: What else have I learned? What would I tell my past self to make life easier?

I thought about making a list of universally agreeable, easily digestible bits of advice, the kind of thing you see on motivational block quotes on Tumblr: Travel the world! Workout and eat clean and love your body! Be fearless! Get out in nature! Because I agree with all of those sentiments  and I have learned those lessons through experience since college. But I know my younger self and she’d be like, “Fuck you and your hippie dippy inspirational bullshit. I’m going to go sit in this corner and fantasize about stabbing you.”

So, just in case my younger self discovers time travel and comes after me, I will limit myself to this one piece of advice:

Don’t be afraid to show that you care. 

That is all. Everything else you need will flow from first acknowledging that you care, that you’re invested, that you want something more from yourself, from your life, and from your relationships.

I used to think that showing you cared was a weakness, a chink in the armor. Admitting you wanted something (particularly affection) was the short road to being disappointed. Once, when I first started dating Jay and we were in a rough patch, my college roommate asked how things were going. I said, stony faced and completely serious, “It’s fine. I just need to want less from him and everything will be fine.” And she, being a rational human being, responded, “That makes no sense. That’s just not how relationships work.”

But that was pretty much how I operated back in the day: passive-aggressive, painfully defensive, secretly aching for softness. I still do it sometimes, and by “sometimes” I mean “in the past week.” I tell myself, “Well just don’t care and it won’t hurt.” And it always hurts anyway.

So, do yourself a favor, past/present/future me, and just own up to caring. Worst case scenario – you don’t get what you want. But that was going to happen anyway, so it’s more like breaking even. Best case scenario – you get what you want. Maybe you get more than you ever thought was possible.

Because here’s the thing: Showing you care isn’t just good for you; it’s good for the people around you too. We like being around people who care. Even assholes prefer the company of gentle, kind people over the company of other assholes. Maybe we hide it. Maybe we reject people who appear to be trying too hard because we ourselves are afraid to try. But deep down, I’d much rather surround myself with people who care too much than people who don’t give a shit.

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